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Look for a better deal

The panel

Farina Azam, partner, Travlaw

Luke Petherbridge, senior public affairs manager, Abta

Julia Lo Bue-Said, managing director, The Advantage Travel Partnership

Gary Lewis, chief executive, The Travel Network Group

A key message from Julia Lo Bue-Said, managing director of the Advantage Travel Partnership, was for agents to shop around for a better deal with their payment provider. “Talk to your merchant acquirers,” she said. “Do not think you’re getting the best deal just because you have been with someone for a long time. There are deals out there – it’s something people should be doing right now.”

Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s senior public affairs manager, agreed: “An important part of bringing down the cost of card payments is to create that competitive marketplace in the merchant acquirer field.”

Abta has been campaigning against “excessively high” card charges for years, and continues to lobby government on the issue. The association believes the EU’s cap on interchange fees, introduced in December 2015, has failed to reduce these costs to travel companies.

Be transparent with clients

Meanwhile, even though the surcharge ban is an EU initiative, lawyer Farina Azam, a partner at Travlaw, highlighted that the legislation would remain in place after the UK leaves the union in 2019.

“Because it’s a directive, it’s going to be implemented into English law, so when we leave the EU there will be no impact,” she explained.

Azam warned that agents should be transparent about any changes, particularly if they are thinking of introducing a booking fee, and she stressed that financial incentives to use certain payment methods would be illegal. “Booking fees are one option but you have to careful because it has to apply, regardless of payment method,” she added. “As it’s a compulsory fee, you also have to make it clear when you advertise.”

Azam also suggested that any booking fee should be based on a percentage of the holiday price rather than as a flat fee on each booking.

“The tricky part is that customers will have to do the maths when they are looking at the price,” she added.

Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, warned that having conversations with clients about a new booking fee could draw “negative” reactions. He instead suggested introducing a package of extra services that could be sold to clients to make up for the lost income from card charges.

“You have to look at how the member adds value to cover the £20 to £25 credit card charge,” he added. “That’s why we have launched our Concierge Service. For an extra £10 per passenger we will print out boarding passes, do your visa application and offer a 24-hour helpline.”

Lewis went on to suggest all agents could unanimously stop taking credit card payments for a day. “If we said we would not take credit cards en masse for one day only, then that would start a conversation,” he added. “That’s a PR opportunity.”

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TTG - Travel Trade Gazette
For Smarter, Better, Fairer Travel
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